Natural Materials (309)

Breathing New Life into Old Wood: Former Duck-Hunting Cabins Find a Home

In 2017, the Millers snagged a 10-acre gem on Buchanan Lake in Minnesota, complete with a trio of old-school duck-hunting cabins that had seen better days. Legend has it, even an NFL big shot used to hunt here. Right before sealing the deal, the previous owners were close to tearing the cabins down. But the Millers saw some rustic gold in that wood and decided to dismantle the structures instead, aiming to breathe new life into the aged siding.

Two old wood cabins

Each cabin told its own story. One was the crash pad, still packed with a dozen mattresses—a mash-up of bunk and twin beds in one room, plus a couple of full-size beds in the next. The roof had given up on doing its job here, and most of the windows were a testament to better times gone by. Another cabin was all about the grub; its kitchen setup was surprisingly intact with a fridge, stove, and sink. And then there was the storage shack, standing firm on a concrete foundation, while its siblings squatted on wooden floors that were quickly deteriorating—think rotted planks! 

One long old wood cabin, half rotting

But here’s where it gets good. The Millers managed to rescue about 60% of that wood, trimming off the rough edges (literally) to weave it into their new digs inside a steel shed—you know, the steel shed that people use for a house—a “shouse.” They power-washed each plank to its former glory, skipped the sanding to keep that rugged charm, and sealed each with a layer of clear varnish. They went all in on a cozy, lived-in vibe.

two walls with repurposed wood, one rustic tongue and groove and the other painted shiplap

Installing the siding was a bit like putting together a giant puzzle—using the tongue and groove style on stud walls, pinned down with finishing nails. Some of the boards were stripped in half for the trim to keep up the rustic look. The roofing boards got a new lease on life too. They were cleaned up, painted, and lined up for a shiplap statement wall. All in all, it took about a week of prep and DIY magic to get everything up and looking sharp.

picture of Meg Simonds house from the book, Small Homes

While many of our books feature recycled materials, Meg Simonds, featured in Small Homes, explains it best: “Building with recycled wood is a slow and arduous affair, from finding it to pulling the last nail. It is a lot of work and rarely is it delivered. The payoff is twofold. The quality of older wood generally surpasses that of new, and its deep, rich beauty only comes with age. For us, more importantly, [we love] getting to have a truly deep relationship with the wood. All this wood once had a home, an ancient forest, the lungs of the Earth; little of this remains. The best we can do now is to have a deep respect for what was and what is. We approached building our home with this in mind.” (pg. 126-127)

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Greg Clark's Handmade House

Hi Lloyd,

I’ve been fascinated by handmade houses for years. I came across a book in the ’70s called The Wood Butcher’s Art. I now teach in a traditional school in India, and teach my students about such houses. With their help I made a house here in West Bengal from mostly local timber and I thought you might be interested. We have several of your books which are very inspiring. The boys made several models based on a reading of some of your books. If you are interested I can send more photos. The house was inspired by my travels in Cambodia, Thailand, and Assam.

I teach in a traditional school in West Bengal, India. We have international students and I wanted to show them that you can build a great house out of local renewable materials. The trees for the frame and most of the floors was all local. Many students came and helped me build the house. It took about two years. I wanted to use shingles for the roof, but we can’t get cedar here. So I had to invest quite a bit to make teak shingles, which were used historically in tropical places like Hawaii or Mauritius. The walls are made from ‘Slipstraw’ but we used the abundant eucalyptus sawdust that we generated instead of straw. We finished the walls with a lime sand plaster. It came out so well we had no need to paint. The wood was finished with a mix of local beeswax and pine turpentine.

The Bhaktivedanta Academy Gurukula, a traditional Vedic school with international students in West Bengal, India is helping to construct a series of houses for teachers. The boys of the academy spend a couple of hours each day learning basic construction methods based on age-old building traditions and using mostly local materials. The school’s oxen and horse also assist in the process. The boys are from all over the world: Russia, Ukraine, China, Taiwan, New Zealand, Australia, different parts of India, Ecuador, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Hungary, Bulgaria, etc. Before starting to build the boys spent several lessons studying your books, Builders of the Pacific Coast, Shelter 1-2, etc.

–Greg Clark

Sasha making pegs

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Driftwood Shacks Book Version 2.0 Just Released

We just received our new version of Driftwood Shacks: Anonymous Architecture Along the California Coast. It has twice as many pages/pictures and was printed by our printers in Hong Kong who print all of our building books. It is now available for order at www.shelterpub.com/building/driftwood.

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Jay Nelson’s Latest Treehouse



Jay Nelson’s latest treehouse, now under construction in a redwood grove in Northern California. It’s about 10 by 11 feet in floor area. The round window pivots open on center pins. There are two climbing ropes attached high up so Jay and Max can work on the curved roof. Almost all the wood (except for floor framing and plywood sheathing) is used.

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Tiny House Built to Escape Wildfires

In 2017, wildfires swept through Ojai, California causing a tremendous amount of destruction. Ryan watched as the eerie glow on the horizon turned into a wall of flames racing towards his parked tiny house. It was about 4am when he hitched up his home to his truck and managed to move it to safety moments before the property was engulfed in flames. Thankfully, his tiny home was safe but the property it was parked on was completely torched, the property owners tragically loosing their home.

It was that event which prompted him to build a second tiny house. Firstly, he wanted to build cheaper, so he didn’t have quite as much capital invested in his home on wheels and secondly so that it could be smaller, easier to find a parking space for and even more simple to move should the fires ever sweep through the area again…

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Scott Holmen's 14′ × 14′ Post-and-Beam Cabin

…I have worked as a forester since the mid-1970s and have lived in places that had specialized structures with limited functions, a cookhouse for cooking and eating, a bathhouse for showers and clothes washing, and a smaller structure (cabin or tent frame) to sleep in. Not much of a stretch to think I could do that again. I always wanted a large outside space which would stay dry. So I ended up with a 16´ × 16´ covered deck in front of the cabin. This had an added advantage because it gave me a large, dry, flat building area. Since it does rain a bit around here, that was a huge plus.

The cabin’s concept was to build modular log walls, and then assemble them in a post-and-beam framework. The log walls use ¾˝ thick, 3˝ wide plywood splines to attach them to the posts. The modules are built on a jig, and are then either stored somewhere until it is time to build or are then rebuilt on the foundation.

I’m just a retro-grouch at heart. Old school, wood and steel, no electricity, and a bit of skill beats power tools any day. I like my electric hand planers for smoothing wall timbers, love my chainsaw for cutting the big stuff — but for a simple bevel on a board (or 70 boards), I like the sound of a quiet hand plane that is older than my grandkids, older than my kids, older than me, maybe older than my father, and just like the ones my grand­father used to use.
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Hybrid Natural Home in Colorado Highlands Built by Brett LeCompte

My home, which I built in 
2003–04, is a hybrid design. 
The north, east, and west wall are straw bale, while the south wall is adobe and glass. The upper story is framed with 2˝ × 8˝ rough-sawn local Ponderosa Pine, furred out to about 9½˝ to accommodate a heavy coat of cellulose insulation, which also fills the roof cavity. Downstairs, there are earthen plasters inside and outside, while upstairs is sheathed in local, rough-sawn pine board and batten.

Drywall walls upstairs are finished in earthen plasters, which ties the two levels together. A central woodstove heats the home, which is off the grid. I tried to use materials mostly from my county in southwest Colorado. Ceilings are tongue-and-groove aspen sawn in a mill six miles away. The frame is local Ponderosa pine, including a third of them milled from my property. I did my own bathroom and kitchen ­cabinetry. Downstairs floors are earthen (two thirds) and tile (one third). There are lots of porches for protection of my earthen walls during a Colorado winter. One unique feature is a 10-inch lizard (painted blue) that runs up the staircase on an interior adobe wall. I named her Noelle when I finished shaping her one Christmas afternoon. I share the house with my wife Shaine, kids Rosie and Fielder, and dog Ella…

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Barn in Oregon Framed with 1″ Lumber

I’ve been going through old photos lately. I shot photos of this beautiful barn in 2014. I posted it back then, but I think it’s worth looking at it again, in more detail. Here’s what I wrote:

There are buildings that have — for lack of a better word — a sweetness to them. Like this barn, like a small abandoned cottage in an English field I once found, slowly disintegrating back into the soil from which all its materials came. Inside, I could feel the lives that had been lived there. Or the buildings of master carpenter Lloyd House. It happens most frequently in barns, where practicality and experience create form with function. Architecture without architects.

The unique feature here is that the roof’s curve is achieved by building the rafters out of 1″ material. 1 × 12s laminated together (I believe 4 of them) to achieve the simplest of laminated trusses. The barn is 24′ wide, 32′ long, 26′ to the ridge. Thanks to Mackenzie Strawn for measuring it; he also wrote: “I have a carpentry manual from the 1930’s with a short section on the Gothic arch barns, they suggest making the roof radius ¾ of the width.”

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